After packing up my tent in Shenandoah National Park I drove the rest of the ridge road. The sky was bright blue, but the valley was filled with clouds right below the road for almost the entire ride. It was pretty wild driving on winding roads alongside this for so long.
After a while the road went beneath the clouds and I got an almost endless view of the Shenandoah Valley. I've only seen the Appalachians in passing (when driving from Massachusetts to Tennessee for Bonnaroo, and from Georgia to Ohio for a boy) and to camp and weave slowly through the mountains now was really incredible.
(This is my road-tripping partner... a 10-year old Nissan Xterra that I have had for six years, 100,000 miles, 28 states and a LOT of road-singing. I love it almost a little too much.)
From Virginia, I explored North Carolina and Tennessee. The area of far western North Carolina outside of Boone is so pastoral, with so many small farms and animals enjoying themselves in the sunshine, small cabins with rocking chairs on porches overlooking rolling blue and green hills, and patches of wildflowers everywhere. At one point I got out of my car on the side of a dirt and gravel road and sat on the hood for half an hour just smelling the warm, clean air and listening to the awesome silence... nothing but a couple cow moos and rustling grass and trees. Amazing.
I planned on going much further south, and I'm not sure why I turned around back to Virginia... it just felt right at the time, so I drove out of Mountain Home, Tennessee on some backroads and back towards Shenandoah. It was late afternoon and I realized along the way that I wouldn't make it there in time, so I found another campground 40 minutes away very deep in George Washington State Forest. I hesitated a little; as a female traveling alone most of the time you feel safe, but sometimes you don't, and that hesitation is an instinct that deserves attention. After discussing with Mike the possibility of camping in the pouring rain alone (decision: it sucks, but I should do it anyway) and asking the cashier at the gas station if she knew the area ("It's beautiful up there... and don't worry, we mountain folk aren't too crazy and dangerous." Ha!), I headed up Route 56 on the darkest, most winding mountain road I have ever driven on. It was midnight and pitch dark out when I finally got there. The campground was nearly empty, so the manager gave me a small cabin to stay in for the same price as tent site.
This is what I woke up to:
The view from the cabin porch.
The Tyro river.
The campground I was at calls itself the best kept secret in Virginia and they're right. The whole night I could hear the river but had no idea it was ten feet in front of my cabin door. The north fork of the Tyro river runs through the campground and is the cleanest, coldest water I have ever seen or felt, fast-moving and surrounded by lush green forest and moss-covered rocks and wildflowers. The cabin porch faces away from the rest of the campground (which was only 3 other cabins and about 15 tent sites, all empty) and I spent most of the morning drinking coffee, sketching, listening to the river and being scouted out by a little cat, then hiking most of the Crabtree Falls trail in the afternoon.
After getting back, I stuck some beers in the river to chill and sketched and made art for the rest of the night.